The authors of "Dogs and Their Women" call it the book that was meant to be, a gift to animal-lovers that started almost simultaneously in the minds of two women, one on each coast.
"I wanted to do a dog book," said Barbara Cohen, now of Massachusetts, but formerly of Southern California.
"I was thinking the same thing," said Louise Taylor of Massachusetts, both then and now.
They kept their thoughts to themselves for several years, until finally Ms. Cohen moved to Ms. Taylor's neck of the woods. The two met at an art gallery opening, became friends and soon discovered they shared almost exactly the same book idea.
The result, in 1989, was "Dogs and Their Women" (Little, Brown; $9.95), a lovely little volume that exceeded the publisher's expectations -- the book is in its fifth printing, with close to 40,000 sold -- and put the two fledgling authors on a path neither had anticipated.
Bolstered by the success of "Dogs," Ms. Taylor and Ms. Cohen followed with "Cats and Their Women" (Little, Brown; $10.95), released in April. "Horses and Their Women" is due out in spring. "Cats" sold out of its first printing of 15,000 copies in a month and is now in its second printing.
"Dogs and Their Women" is one of my favorite books. The format is simple: high-quality black-and-white photographs, each paired with the brief story of one woman and her canine companion. Some of them are lighthearted, like the picture of Judith Posner ++ and her massive bloodhound, Daisy Mae, a dog whose pastimes include sleeping on her futon and drooling." Others are quite serious and moving.
"It was a phenomenon," said Ms. Taylor. "People would pour their hearts out to us. We would get four-page letters. It was like they were writing about the love of their lives."
"After 'Dogs' we got a lot of letters from people who wanted us to do "Dogs II" and wanted their picture included," said Cohen. "But others just wanted to share their experiences. They'd say, 'Thank you for letting us share this.' It opened up our world."
The women wanted to do another volume of dogs, but the publisher thought the concept extended naturally to cats and horses. Ms. Taylor and Ms. Cohen, who are as fond of their cats as they are of their dogs, were happy to oblige.
The stories in "Cats and Their Women" are just as appealing as those in the earlier book. There's the picture of Susan Jones and her fragile black cat, Winnie. When Ms. Jones found her, Winnie was a sick throwaway kitten, caked with filth and cold to the touch. She lived, but remained small and uncoordinated. "Yet for all of this, Winnie is one of the most affectionate, sweet-natured cats that I have had the fortune to befriend," writes Ms. Jones.
Then there's the story of Diana, the sweet-faced gray cat who lives with Connie Panzarino, a woman almost totally paralyzed by a muscle disease. Diana spends her days purring in her owner's lap. "She pets me by moving her head against my hand or face," writes Ms. Panzarino.
There are about 60 more stories and photographs just as wonderful. Ms. Cohen and Ms. Taylor received more than 600 submissions after writing to various cat clubs and publications.
"Some people just heard about it," said Ms. Taylor. "Strangers would write to us and say, 'You can't do this book without putting [my cat] in it.' "
The authors contend that the circumstances of most women's lives produce a tighter bond with their animals.
"Women end up caring for the animals, like they care for the family, for the children," said Ms. Cohen. "Women always seem to be the primary care-giver, and that produces a special bond."
"The essence of this bond is unconditional love," said Ms. Taylor. "Our animals are the ones that are happiest to see us."
That connection shows on every page of these books. I'm already looking forward to the next -- and the authors say final -- book in the series.
Ms. Spadafori is a licensed pet trainer in Sacramento, Calif. Questions about pets may be sent to her c/o At Home, The Sun, 501 N. Calvert St., Baltimore 21278.